Tag Archives: Black tea

Oolong tea: Oriental Beauty

Oriental Beauty

Darjeeling’s cousin. Light, fruity and heavily-oxidised for an oolong.
Oolong tea » Traditional » Taiwan, ★
Also known as: 东方美人茶, Dongfang Meiren Cha

Oriental Beauty is very highly oxidised, with a few furry tips included. The dry leaf looks a little like two teas blended together. And the taste more closely resembles a light, fruity black tea (such as Darjeeling) than an oolong. A quick look at this tea’s Wikipedia page helps us to explain why:

“Dongfang meiren is the chhiⁿ-sim tōa-phàⁿ (青心大冇) cultivar grown without pesticides to encourage a common pest, the tea green leafhopper (Jacobiasca formosana), to feed on the leaves, stems, and buds. These insects suck the phloem juices of the tea stems, leaves, and buds, producing monoterpene diol and hotrienol which give the tea its unique flavor. The buds then turn white along the edges which gives the tea its alternate name, white tip oolong. The insect bites start the oxidation of the leaves and tips and add a sweet note to the tea.” — Wikipedia.

I can feel the muscatel flavour (reminiscent of grape skin), and a fruitiness similar to that of fruit infusions (or “fruit teas”) in later brews. The medium-tannin, low-caffeine taste lasts for many hours on your tongue after drinking.

Oriental Beauty would appeal to playful tea drinkers. These are the tea-drinkers who like to add fruit, nuts, popcorn and milky flavours to the leaf, or even create their own tea-blends. In producing this tea, the farmers have done exactly that: they’ve introduced insect species with the specific intention of altering the tea’s flavour. Personally, I prefer simplicity.

I’ll give this tea two stars, but those who prefer black teas, dark teas, fruit teas and rooibos infusions could possibly give it all five. ★★

Black tea: Qimen Hongcha

Qimen Hongcha

Stimulating breakfast brew that’s as light as a Rooibos tisane.
Black tea » Chinese » Anhui Qimen teas, ★★★★★
Also known as: 祁门红茶, Keemun, 祁红, Qihong.

Qimen Hongcha was the original “English Breakfast Tea” before it became too expensive for the mass market. The British purchased so much of this tea in the 19th century that the price rocketed within a couple of years after they first imported it. Today, Qimen Hongcha tea costs around $10 per 100g—a price that is highly justified.

Qimen Hongcha is delightful to drink. It has light, sweet, floral overtones, but (like Rooibos) lacks undertones completely. This is one of few teas where I can clearly taste the water in the brew! There’s no astringency or bitterness, and even though many tasters note smokiness in the brew, I couldn’t feel any. The subtle fruitiness resembles dark, sugary fruits like figs and sultanas, whose lingering aftertaste develops charmingly on the palate.

Qimen Hongcha makes a great breakfast tea. It awakens you without feeling heavy—in fact, it’s as light on the palate as a Rooibos tisane. Brew it before a day’s work and you’ll feel calm and alert, with a pleasantly sweet, lingering aftertaste that stays until lunch. I love it.

I tend to prefer white, green, and the greener oolong teas, but there are a few more oxidised teas, such as Fenghuang DancongDejoo Estate Assam and this tea, Qimen Hongcha, that even I am in love with. ★★★★★

Black tea: Second Flush Darjeeling

Darjeeling

Like slooooooowly eating a purple grape.
Black tea » Indian » Darjeeling, ★★★★

Look at my Tea Taxonomy diagram and you’ll see that Darjeeling tea is a special colour. I’ve coloured it cyan (representing Oolong tea) despite placing it in the red (Indian Black tea) subcategory. Why did I do that?

Darjeeling is no ordinary black tea. First, unlike most black teas, it’s only partially oxidised, making it technically an oolong tea and not a black tea at all. Second, unlike most other black teas, Darjeeling tea estates cultivate the small-leaved Chinese tea bush (Camellia sinensis var. sinensis or 茶树), rather than the large-leaved Assam tea tree (Carmellia sinensis var. assamica or 古茶树). The result is a unique “muscatel” flavour and an intriguing wet-leaf aroma that earns Darjeeling the title of “the Champagne of all teas”.

What is “muscatel”? If you don’t wash the leaves (as I didn’t), the first brew will taste slightly of grape skin (that’s “muscatel”). This slightly astringent flavour (which I don’t particularly like) is replaced by a grapey sweetness in subsequent brews (which I do like). The second brew is the best (that’s the first brew if you wash the leaf), where notes of grape, rose and peach come out to play.

Second pluck Darjeeling is quite tannin-rich, but tannic muscatel yields to a sweet, lingering grapiness after you’ve finished drinking. Drinking this tea is like slooooooowly eating a purple, seeded grape, where the astringency of the skin disappears but the sweetness inside lingers on the tongue. Wet Darjeeling leaves release an overwhelming aroma of crushed grapes.

This special tea deserves special treatment. My tips for brewing Second Flush Darjeeling: (1) wash the leaves (i.e. discard the first brew); (2) don’t brew it too hot (remember it’s an Oolong tea!) and (3) take breaks between brews to allow the sweet grape flavour to emerge. ★★★★

Learn more about Darjeeling teas from this video:

http://twinings.co.uk/about-our-tea/first-flush-teas/compare-4-darjeeling-teas

Black tea: Nonaipara Estate Assam

Nonaipara Estate Assam

A refreshing, spring afternoon tea that narrowly escaped being trampled by elephants!
Black tea » Indian » Assam, ★★★★

Nonaipara Estate‘s tea is hearty, fruity, malty and higher in tannin than its sister tea from Dejoo Estate. If the chocolatey taste of Dejoo Estate suits a cold winter morning, then the fruitiness of Nonaipara Estate is best consumed on days that feel like spring.

Characteristic of Assam teas, it’s strong but low in tannin, and only very slightly sweet. It’s a pleasant, high-quality Assam tea but lacks any special, memorable characteristics that might be found in other black teas such as Darjeeling (headiness), Lapsang Souchong (smokiness) or Dejoo Estate (Ferrero Rocher chocolatiness).

I’ve never heard of this tea and there’s very little information about the Nonaipara Estate online so I’m assuming that their production volume is quite low. This could be explained by one article in the Assam Tribune, which tells us that the Nonaipara Estate is frequently plagued by rampaging elephants who forage among the tea bushes (crushing them):

The incident created a furore… frequent trail of death and destruction by the marauding pachyderms, especially in northern Udalguri. The Chief Minister [was]… warned of drastic consequences by the aggrieved people. — Assam Tribune

“Frequent trail of death and destruction by the marauding pachyderms”. We’re lucky to be drinking this tea. ★★★★

Black tea: Dejoo Estate Assam

Dejoo Estate Assam

Like a shot of melted Ferrero Rocher chocolate.
Black tea » Indian » Assam, ★★★★★

Wow. Hot chocolate tea!

Today, I was lucky enough to receive three single-estate Assam teas, and I’m tasting two of them side-by-side right now. I brewed identical amounts of each in identical shot-glasses with identical volumes of water. My trustworthy iPod was used as a timing device (two-minute brew; nothing added).

The first of these teas, the Dejoo Estate, tastes so good that I’ve finished it after writing just one paragraph! I can taste cocoa nibs and hints of berries in my mouth, and my tongue thinks it can feel the roughness of broken hazelnuts. This tea feels like a shot of melted Ferrero Rocher chocolate. I feel very warmed!

Dejoo Estate is regarded as one of the best in the Assam region. The perfect terroir produces a tea that’s strong without being bitter, and fruity-chocolatey without being woody or astringent. I suggest brewing this tea lightly because it’s quite strong; but you could also get away with a medium-strength brew without bringing out any tannins.

I love single-estate teas because we can find subtle differences in flavour between them. Tea-tasting trains our senses to appreciate subtle beauty in all things around us.

While I drink all my teas naked (by that, I mean without milk or sugar), I’d forgive anyone who wanted to add milk—and thus produce a “milky hot chocolate” out of this tea. Drink Dejoo in winter to feel happy and warm. Let its chocolatey taste surprise and intrigue your guests. ★★★★★

Tisane: Rooibos

Rooibos

Sweet and mentholly but doesn’t live up to the hype.
Tisane, 

Rooibos is a plant native to South Africa that gives a reddish broth when brewed. This gives rise to its technically incorrect English pseudonym of “red tea”. Other than being a plant (specifically a eudicot), it is of no relation to tea whatsoever (Carmellia sinensis).

Brewed, it tastes like muffled black tea with an aroma of menthol. I say ‘muffled’ because rooibos lacks the feeling of tea (茶气 in Chinese), which would have either warmed, cooled, excited or relaxed me, and invariably increased my clarity and focus. Rooibos does none of that, possibly because, unlike tea, it lacks caffeine, catechins and tannin. But the fact that rooibos shares the same woody undertones, light taste and clean mouthfeel found in many popular black teas probably makes it a hit.

Rooibos has been added to the ‘superfood’ bandwagon recently by clever lobbyists. Rumours that rooibos can cure EVERYTHING are rife on the Internet, in the Daily Mail and on supermarket labels. Personally, I think it’s just clever advertising. If only Apple advertised real books. I think ALL foods are “healthy” and could be justifiably labelled as “superfoods” if a decent advertising agency was paid handsomely enough.

I was disappointed by rooibos. I expected something magical after all that hype. Yes, rooibos makes a pleasant tisane, but so do many other herbs. It might as well have been cinnamon. 不怎么样. ★★

Readers: Have you tried Rooibos? Do you love it? Hate it? Why?

Amazing Tea Taxonomy 茶叶分类

All The Tea In China, India and Africa. Amazing Tea Taxonony James Kennedy Beijing
All The Tea In China, India and Africa. Click to Download.

Note: There now exists a newer version of this post titled Tea Types 2012.

I love tea. And while studying, drinking and writing about tea, I’ve categorized all the teas you’re ever likely to encounter onto one simple poster. There are thousands more rarer types and subtypes, which you can add yourselves via the comments section. This selection is a great start (and it’s all I’m willing to show you). If you learn only one thing from this diagram, it should be that there are thousands of types of tea. Tetley Pyramid Teabags are just the beginning (overpriced sweepings from the factory floor).

Sources: The Story of Tea, 识茶泡茶品茶 (Chinese book), tea blogs too numerous to list, personal experience (teas I drank) and Baidu.

Notes:

  • Darjeeling is coloured ‘teal’ because it is technically a Oolong tea, despite being classified widely as a Black tea.
  • Black tea is coloured ‘red’ because the Chinese classify tea by the liquor colour rather than the colour of the dried leaves.
  • Pu’er is sometimes considered a separate category because of its popularity. In which case, the other (non-Pu’er) Dark teas are usually ignored. I’ve chosen to include both Pu’er and non-Pu’er Dark teas in this poster.
  • There are many more sub-types of each tea. Take Iron Buddha, for example, which has its own characteristics within the class of “Iron Buddha”. Age, oxidation level and unique fragrance are but some of these many characteristics.
  • Sundried Green teas such as those made for local consumption in Xishuangbanna, Yunnan, are coloured ‘white’ because they are technically white teas, despite the production process having been re-evolved as a shortcut to Green tea production. Sundried Green teas are distinguished further from the other Green teas because, like the vast majority of White teas, they usually use large-leaf Assamica subspecies of tree (Chinese: 古茶树; English: “India Bush”).
  • Modern Flower teas are usually classified as Green, White or Black, depending on the leaf colour. These modern Flower teas are (almost) an existing tea blended with flower or flower essence. However, the traditional method of Flower tea manufacture (via a Zaobei leaf), was totally different from that of any of the other six tea categories. I have therefore included Flower teas as a seventh type of tea (to which some tea-lovers may protest). Be quiet. Drink tea.
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